If you’re experiencing lower back pain, you’re not alone. Research shows that lower back pain is on the rise worldwide, with 31 million Americans experiencing it at any given time to the tune of $50 billion in healthcare costs each year.
But when your back pain seems to radiate down your body and into your hips, buttocks, or legs, you may have a more complex problem.
Because it’s often connected with other types of back pain, sciatica can often go undiagnosed and untreated. Worse, even people diagnosed with sciatica may not know where to turn for sciatica relief and treatment, especially for moderate to severe pain.
If you’re struggling to manage your sciatica, this simple guide can help you find the pain relief you need. Jamie Erdahl Bio
What Is Sciatica?
Sciatica refers to pain radiating from the sciatic nerve. This nerve stretches from your lower back and along your hips, buttocks, and legs. Though sciatic nerve pain often affects only one side of your body, it’s possible to feel pain in both legs in some cases.
Some common causes of sciatica include the following:
- Degenerative disk disease, or a disease that damages the disks cushioning each vertebrae
- Herniated disks, or one or more disks that are bulging between the vertebrae
- Lumbar spinal stenosis, or a narrowing of the spine that may compress the sciatic nerve
- Spondylolisthesis, in which one vertebra slips over another
- Spinal bone spurs, or bony overgrowths, which may impact the sciatic nerve
- Muscle spasms
Anyone can experience sciatica, though the risk increases as you age. Certain professions, especially those that involve long periods of driving, sitting, or picking up and carrying heavy items, can also increase your risk of sciatica.
Symptoms of Sciatica
If you have sciatica, you may be experiencing one or more painful symptoms associated with this condition. These may include the following:
- Lower back pain
- Pain, burning, or tingling in the buttocks or leg, sometimes extending to the foot or toes
- Hip pain
- Weakness or numbness in one leg, sometimes extending to the foot or toes
- Constant pain on one side of the buttocks
- Pain when trying to stand up
Your symptoms will depend on where your sciatic nerve is compressed or affected in some way. As a result, the symptoms of sciatica will look different from person to person.
Pain from sciatica can range from mild pain to severe and even disabling pain that makes movement painful. Your symptoms may also get worse over time.
While many cases of sciatica involve pain as an irritant more than anything else, there are a few serious symptoms you should watch for. These include fever, swelling or redness along your spine, burning sensations when urinating, or a loss of bladder or bowel control. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical care.
Non-surgical Sciatica Pain Relief Therapies
For those with mild to moderate sciatica pain, most find that their sciatica goes away in a few weeks to months, especially if they follow a few simple best practices. Speak with a doctor before adopting any new regimen into your daily routine, though they will likely advise you to try one or more of these simple options to relieve your pain.
Sometimes, the causes of sciatica include postural issues that put unnecessary pressure on the sciatic nerve. When this is the case, a physical therapist can guide you toward incorporating good posture into your habits. They can also help create a personalized stretching regimen and advise you on movements to avoid with your sciatic pain.
Certain alternative therapies can help ease the pain of sciatica.
Yoga is a popular therapy—home-based or in a studio—as certain stretches can alleviate tension and pain in the back. In addition, acupuncture, acupressure, and massages may provide temporary relief. Biofeedback therapy may be difficult to find, but it can also help eliminate certain types of muscle tension you may be experiencing.
Initial Home-Based Pain Relief Measures
When you first experience sciatica pain, you may not be sure how to keep it from happening. However, Jamie Erdahl Bio a few simple measures can help with pain in the short-term.
Because movement can ease inflammation, it’s important not to remain in bed the entire time you’re experiencing sciatica symptoms. A few days in bed can help, however, especially if your initial burst of pain feels severe. Try to resume your typical daily activities as soon as you can.
Over-the-counter medication can go a long way in offering pain relief for your symptoms. Acetaminophen, aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen should all help, but you may want to talk to your doctor if they don’t address any severe pain you’re experiencing. They may offer prescription pain medications or even muscle relaxants to ease muscle spasms.
Ice and Heat Packs
Heat and cold treatment can be helpful, but make sure that the temperatures of either (or both) that you use are moderate.
In most cases, you’ll want to apply heat therapy first, setting the heat pack against the affected area for anywhere from 15-30 minutes. If you’d like to follow up with cold therapy, make sure to wrap the pack in a towel to avoid applying ice directly to the skin. Use this therapy for a shorter amount of time, anywhere from 10-20 minutes, for best results.
Long-Term Sciatica Pain Relief Measures
In addition to the measures above, it’s important to work toward habits that ease your sciatica in the long-term. Here are a few best practices to bring into your daily life.
You might be surprised to find that walking is a great way to relieve inflammation, especially in the back. Even short walks can offer relief for mild to moderate pain.
Your doctor or physical therapist can advise you on the length and duration of your walks. They can even help ensure you have good walking form that doesn’t cause further irritation to the sciatic nerve.
One of the underlying causes of sciatica is often postural issues. Bad posture can cause extra strain on the back, taking the vertebrae out of alignment and causing them to pinch the sciatic nerve.
As a result, it’s important to keep the back and spine in a neutral position. Some people find it helpful to think of “stacking” the body: the shoulders are above the hips, and the ears are above the shoulders. In addition, the pelvis should be anteverted, or tipped forward a little, to avoid a hunched back.
Don’t forget to consider the ergonomics of any area in which you spend a lot of time. For most of us, that’s our office chair. To keep an anteverted pelvis while sitting, invest in a memory foam wedge cushion for your chair. Lumbar support may also be useful if your chair has a straight back.
Even if you’re experiencing pain that makes motion difficult at the moment, simple stretches may provide relief by externally rotating the hip. As with any new exercise routine, however, you’ll want to talk to a doctor or physical therapist first in order to avoid further pain.
Once you’ve been approved for stretching, try adding one or two simple stretches to your day, building up the number of stretches until you feel more comfortable.
Sciatica Surgical Treatment Options
Because sciatica often goes away after a short period, most people won’t need to resort to other options. However, for a small percentage of those suffering from sciatica, the symptoms will continue to be severe even after months of following the best practices above as well as a regimen from a doctor.
In addition, sciatica can cause a condition known as cauda equina syndrome, which can make you lose control of your bladder or bowels. As noted above, you should seek immediate medical attention for this, as surgery will be necessary.
Sciatica patients, with guidance from their doctor, may opt for one of two procedures.
As the name suggests, this type of surgery is used to remove any damaged portion of one or more disks of your vertebra. Often used for patients with herniated disks, this procedure can also help remove bone spurs or other common causes of sciatica. In some cases, the doctor may need to remove the entire disk in order to ease your pain.
The lamina is the part of the vertebra covering your spinal canal. With a laminectomy, a surgeon can enlarge your spinal canal, which in turn relieves any pressure impacting your sciatic nerve.
Again, both of these surgeries should only be considered as a last resort when other medical treatments, home-based or otherwise, haven’t worked.
Find Your Path to Sciatica Relief
Every person with sciatica will experience different symptoms and need different strategies to manage their pain. However, experimenting with the insights above can help you find your path to sciatica relief, one step at a time. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your doctor for assistance as you navigate your options and get back on the road to recovery.
If you’re looking for more of the helpful guides you need to know, we’ve got you covered. Check out our other posts for additional insights!